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U.S. Military Extends Stay In Middle East

Palms give a tropical look to an elaborate floral headdress modeled during the 8th annual Tulips and Pansies fashion show benefiting Village Care New York Thursday, May 14, 2009, in New York.
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The United States wants to keep using military bases in friendly Persian Gulf countries, including a high-tech command center in Qatar where planners directed the war in Iraq, U.S. officials said Sunday.

Officials are considering moving the air operations center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, which ran the Iraq air war. One possibility is a shift to the Qatar base, Camp As Sayliyah.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the top war commander, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with officials in the United Arab Emirates on the first stop of a tour of the region. After talks with the UAE's defense minister and chief of staff, Rumsfeld and Franks said American military forces were not going to leave any time soon.

"We assured them that the United States intends to do what is necessary to make sure there is a secure environment in Iraq," Rumsfeld said.

"There's no question but that the people of this region are safer today than they were when the Saddam Hussein regime was in power."

Franks and Rumsfeld met with Crown Prince Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the son of the UAE president. The UAE's defense minister, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sheik Mohammad Zayed Al Nahyan, also participated.

The pair said they thanked the UAE leaders for their war help, which included sending troops to Kuwait and humanitarian aid to Iraq.

UAE officials did not speak to journalists after the talks.

Rumsfeld is in the region to meet with U.S. troops involved in the war in Iraq and to discuss Washington's role after overthrowing Saddam, but his itinerary is kept secret because of security concerns. Rumsfeld also plans to visit Afghanistan this week.

The defense secretary has said the United States is considering reducing or rearranging its presence in the Persian Gulf region now that the threat from Iraq is over.

But Franks said a possible reduction in the American use of ports and air bases in the UAE did not come up Sunday. He said the issue needs more study.

Franks said the U.S. military presence in the region might increase, at least in the short term, as stability and humanitarian relief missions in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.

The United States also wants to keep using the Qatar command center built just before the war and used by Franks as his headquarters for the Iraq campaign.

"We do know that we want to use it, now that we have it," Franks said.

Rumsfeld and Franks said they are pleased with progress in the search for top members of Saddam's government. U.S. forces announced Sunday they had captured Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Saddam's chief contact with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who turned himself in to US. forces in Baghdad Thursday, seems to be cooperating with his American interrogators but his claims must be checked to see if they are true, Franks said.

"How cooperative and how truthful he is, we'll have to see over time," Franks said.

The general said the United States will have to search several thousand sites for evidence of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. American forces started the war with a list of about 1,000 suspect sites, and for each site on the list, Iraqis tell Americans about one or two others, Franks said.

U.S. troops found about a dozen 55-gallon (210-liter) drums in an open field in northern Iraq, and initial tests indicated one of them contained a mixture of a nerve agent and mustard agent, an American officer said Sunday.

U.S. troops have used bases in the UAE since the 1991 Gulf War, in which the UAE joined the coalition to oust Saddam's invading forces from Kuwait. American aircraft used the al-Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi.

The UAE government has not indicated it wants to close off its bases to the United States, a U.S. official said Sunday. The UAE's concerns include a territorial dispute with Iran over three small islands in the Persian Gulf.